Friday, March 6, 2015

Project of the Week, Please vote for Superpowerless

Please go to IndieWire and vote for my film Superpowerless as the project of the week. This requires voting, entering your email, then going to your email and confirming your vote (my confirmation email went to Spam, so you may have to check it). Being project of the week is Super for publicity, and street cred. Plus we get a distribution consultation from SnagFilms. Please do this now and share with all of your friends. Please spread the word!!!

I know it's been a long time since I wrote, and I've seen several people have sent me some messages on my Facebook page which I haven't been keeping up with. I apologize. I have been busy with things. Since my last post I shot my first film as a director and have been hired to teach film production at Utah Valley University. So, needless to say, things have been crazy. 

I am excited to post again though, seeing how this blog has stayed alive and active without me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Today's Tip: SAG Weekly and Daily Contracts and Consecutive Employment

One way to save a little money on any SAG project is to sign your actors to a weekly contract as opposed to a daily contract.... Wait! Not ANY project, as there is no Weekly Performer option for Ultra Low Budget projects.

For all other contracts the cost of scale for a Weekly Performer is slightly less than the cost of paying a daily performer for four days of work. Therefore, unless a performer is working three consecutive days or less, it makes sense to sign them to a weekly contract. This gives you some freedom as well. If someone is being paid weekly, it won't be a problem to bring them in for a shot where they are just in the background, or a scene that they are in only a moment. If you're paying them a daily, and you are like me, you will stress about spending the money for such a small moment and try to squeeze them into a different day when they're already doing something else. It also creates flexibility (and saves money) for when you miss a day and have to throw another day onto a performer's schedule.

It will also save you as you work with Consecutive Employment. On the standard SAG Contract and Low Budget Contract ($500,000 to $2,000,000) a performer must be paid for down days between their work day. So if I hire an actor to work Monday and Friday I have to pay them for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well. While it would be preferred to shoot them out in two consecutive days, it is frequently impossible. Therefore, hiring the actor as a Weekly Performer will save you about a day and a half's worth of pay.

SAG's Ultra Low ($0-$200,000) and Low Budget Modified ($200,000 - $500,000) contracts do not require Consecutive Employment payments.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Understanding SAG residuals (part 1) -- SAG Final Cast List, Time and Salary Units

Residuals are income due to SAG performers (or other union members such as the DGA or WGA) as your film makes money in its various ancillary markets. I will now attempt to explain the residual process over a series of blogs.

I'll breakdown from what you pay residuals on in another blog. We'll start now with how SAG calculates what percentage of the total residual payment each actor gets. We'll do this because it's the first thing you have to deal with because it's calculated on the SAG Final Cast List that you turn in at the end of production. Your payroll company may fill this out. A recent company told me they'd charge an additional $100 to fill it out, so to save a few bucks I took the opportunity to learn how it works and do it myself.

In calculating who gets what we work with what's called "SALARY UNITS" and "TIME UNITS." These units measure the distribution of residuals based on the amount of money they made and time they spent on your project.

They are calculated differently for performers on a weekly or daily contract. SAG sets a different rate for weekly or daily performer, with a weekly performer rate being slightly less than the total of five days worked on a daily contract. Unless a performer is only working a few consecutive days they should always be scheduled as weekly performer. Unless, you're shooting with the SAG Ultra Low Budget contract, in which case there is no option for weekly performers.

Weekly Contracts (See the chart below for examples).

Weekly Salary Units: For each week worked a performer working for the weekly scale rate receives one Salary Unit. Weeks are calculated by five days, so if they worked six days, it's one week plus one day. Each day is equal to .2 units, so a person on a weekly contract who works six days will receive 1.2 salary units, and so on.

If, however, the person makes any more than scale, due to a higher rate, or even over time, then the weekly scale is divided into their total salary to determine units.

To find out what their total Salary Units would be you'd divide the performer's gross salary received by SAG's designated scale for whatever particular contract you are working with.

For instance, if someone in a low budget modified project (which has a $933.00 scale for weekly performers) received a flat guarantee of $5,000 the equation would be:

5,000 ÷ 933 = 5.36

Or, in other words: salary units = total gross ÷  weekly scale

So the performer would receive 5.35 Salary Units. However, to prevent uneven payment among performers, Salary Units max out at ten (10). So, in the example below (see the chart), the top performer received a flat guarantee of $20,000 for twelve days worked. Applying the formula results in this:

20,000 ÷ 933 = 21.44 

But, since Salary Units max at ten, this performer receives 10 Salary Units.

Weekly Time Units: Each week worked is equal to one Time Unit. Because each day is worth .2 units, the performer working six days would receive 1.2 Time units. This will stay the same whether they're working scale or being paid a million dollars a day. For instance, in the chart below, the person on the first line is working for a high flat rate, but their time units still reflect the amount of days they actually worked.

Daily Contracts

Daily Time Units: Daily time units were laid out above: .2 units for each day. So an actor who works four days receives .8 units and an actor who works fifteen days receives 3 units.

Daily Salary Units: Daily Salary Units are, like their weekly counterparts, a bit more complicated. You take the performer's TOTAL GROSS SALARY divide that by scale, then multiply that by .2. The equation looks like this:

salary unit=total gross ÷ daily scale x .2

Consequently, a player who works one day at scale without overtime will always have a total salary unit of .2, because (using the SAG Low Budget Modified contract) $268 (total gross) ÷ $268 (scale) = 1 x .2 = .2.

If a player is making more than scale, then this formula will remain the same and work fine. As in: $1000 ÷ $268 = 3.73 x .2 = .75.

Once you've calculated the Time and Salary Units you simply add them up to get the Total Units. You then add up the Total Units for the Total Cast Units and then calculate what total percentage each performer has of the total, which will show you how to divvy up those residuals when it's time to pay them out.

For an example look at this copy of a Final Cast List from a Low Budget Modified film that I produced. The Weekly players are above the middle black line, and the daily players are below the middle black line.

An screenshot from an actual Final Cast List for a Low Budget Modified project (scale = $268)

We'll get to how to calculate what needs to be paid from what income in a later post. So, stay tuned for that and happy shooting.

In the meantime: 

I've worked with several payroll companies in Hollywood and elsewhere, but not many of them will also handle Residuals. Entertainment Partners are one of the largest that does, and my experience with them has been great. They have my recommendation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to be a great production assistant

You've been hired as a Production Assistant (or more likely you've volunteered your services). Great. Welcome to the wonderful, grueling, demanding world that is the bottom-of-the-ladder on a film set. You will learn a lot. You will meet some awesome people. You will work very, very hard.

I've often said that some people show up on set their first day and just seem to get it. Instinctively they seem to know what needs to get done, and the best way to do it. They are immediately wanted by every department to be part of their team, and are hired back again and again. Others, just don't seem to have a clue. They are in the way, they have to be explained things over and over. The production moves slower because they are involved. I was one of the latter. I just didn't get it. In fact I had to stop doing movies, and come back making my own in order to learn what was needed, and WHY it was needed. I had to view things from the top down to get it.

I've often wondered what the difference between these two types are, and while I think it's mostly innate, there are a few philosophies you can espouse that will help you.

1) Remember, you are not there to be creative. That is not your function EVER. You are there to serve the creative people who have been hired to be creative. It's not that you're not creative, or that people don't think you are. It's just not your job to be creative... yet. When telling this to someone recently, he asked if he made just one suggestion a day, would it be out of line (he meant to the director on our super micro set)? I said one suggestion a month would be out of line. You think that your director, who has directed five feature films, is going to want to be given ideas from some kid on his very first shoot? Don't ever, EVER think of yourself as a creative.

Yet there will be important ways to be creative: How to creatively get six coffee cups in a container that holds four; how to get your car from point A to point B the fastest without getting a ticket; how to get pedestrians to walk around the set in a way that won't make them upset or disrupt the crew. These are your creative concerns. If you do your job creatively you'll be well liked, if you try to suggest thoughts or opinions about what the Creative team is doing you will be fired.

2) You are there to WORK. Don't ever forget that your job is to kick butt. Don't ever feel like you're being ill used for being told to work... even if the work seems pointless. Don't ever allow yourself to be standing around with no purpose. A lot of times you will find yourself with nothing to do. Do something. Ask someone if you can help them. Ask people if they need anything. Bring your immediate supervisor a water. Pick up garbage in the street. Get a wet-wipe and clean cables. NEVER stand and watch. When you're told to hold up pedestrians, face the directions the pedestrians are coming, don't face the production. You will not see someone coming and they will slip past you. Do YOUR job well.

3) Some crews require PAs to be standing up always. I don't make that a requirement. BUT if I see a PA sitting I wonder why they're sitting. Don't sit. Stand. Expect to stand for 12 hours. If your AD or Production Manager says you can sit while doing something, then you can do it. If you don't like that, get a job in post (you'll be dying to stand).

4) Don't worry that you don't know what a Half Apple or a C-47 are. You'll learn. Tell people, this is my first movie, so I don't know what that means. Once you are told, NEVER forget. You don't want to have to be told twice. Be sure to ask questions, to the people that you are working with directly. Buy the book STRIKE THE BABY AND KILL THE BLONDE, an imperfect reference book of film terms. It will get you started. When I was on my first shoot the DP told me to "86 that rug." I sat there blinking, trying with all my might to figure out what 86 means. He simply said, "It means move it." I quickly moved it saying, "Sorry, first movie." No worries. I never had to be told what it meant again.

5) You will work 12-16 hour days. Expect it. Anything less is a gift. Don't check your watch and let it eat you up. Don't tell your friends you'll meet them at 8, then worry about having to cancel. Just face the fact you will have no family or social life during the duration of the production. If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you might want to just break up before a long shoot. You might meet someone on set anyway. A great movie to watch for many reasons is Truffaut's Day For Night. There's a great line it: I would leave a boy for a movie, but I'd never leave a movie for a boy.

Follow these simple directions and you should do fine. You may not have the innate skill that some of the Naturals have, but you should make it through without getting fired, and may even be asked to come back again.

One of the Naturals: Drew Sugimoto, left, showed up as an unpaid PA on the set of Surrogate Valentine in 2010 (invited by friend Minori Nishime, right). Seen here with the show's star Goh Nakamura.

Three years and five or six projects later (filmed in three different states), I'm still hiring him (even without his braces). Here he and I are with Bill Nye the Science Guy on the set of An Honest Liar. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jennifer Lawrence doesn't want to be in your movie (a post worth sharing)

Jennifer Lawrence Does Not Want To Be In Your Movie: Lessons Learned Casting Our Microbudget Feature

By Scott K. Foley and Josh Rosenberg
Maya and DP Joe Fitz
When we set out to cast our microbudget feature, Jessica, we were certain we’d be able to quickly find an up-and-coming actress to star. I mean we’d written a script about a complicated and conflicted character, the kind of breakout-caliber role that actors dream about, and one that with a bit of luck would propel their careers, all of our careers, to the next level. What we didn’t know was how, as first time and microbudget filmmakers, we’d be expending an enormous amount of time and energy trying to get past the gatekeepers and how some much appreciated tough-love advice from an unexpected source would finally allow us to move forward and start making our movie.
Our journey started by making a list of actors we were interested in. We worked hard to remain realistic, and so we set our targets on people who had impressed us in smaller supporting roles. People who might be looking to advance to leading-lady status and who could help provide our little indie with some much needed name recognition. We quickly signed up for IMDBPro, where for less than $20 a month we knew we could get contact information for the agents and managers of all the actors on our list. How amazing is that!
Okay, we’ll be honest; those first few calls were terrifying. These were REAL agents of REAL actors, and we were, well, struggling filmmakers. “But,” we rationalized, “surely they would recognize this as an amazing opportunity for their clients, right?” Wrong. Instead of a series of hard-won yesses, we were quickly met with questions like, “What are your dates?” “Does filming have to be in Chicago?” and “What’s the rate?”
One thing we rarely heard was no. Instead we were asked to submit the script with a written offer, an offer that, if the actor liked the material, meant we’d be attaching her without an audition or even having had spoken. So we submitted, one by one, down our list. And one by one, the offers expired. We always followed up, but what we quickly learned was that NOT hearing no, still most often meant NO.
Frustrated, we began thinking we’d made a mistake in not hiring a casting agent, so we asked ourselves what was the best cast independent film in the last few years. Our answer, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Bound and determined to get whoever cast that film to cast ours, we reached out to casting director Susan Shopmaker. Susan warned us up front that our budget was too low for her company, but somehow we managed to convince her to read the script, and shortly thereafter received an email that read simply, “You were right. A very well written script. Let’s talk soon.”
You can’t imagine our excitement. We anticipated her saying, “I want to cast your movie, and I have the next Elizabeth Olsen for you. Let’s do this!” In case you’re wondering, that’s not how the conversation went. Instead Susan was honest – painfully honest. She told us that as untested filmmakers it was going to be very difficult for us to get the script past an agent’s desk, especially at our microbudget rates. She also told us we were still aiming too high, that we were targeting working actors who had carved out nice careers for themselves. Lastly she told us that our lead actress would not be the reason someone would come see our movie. People would come see it because we’d made a great movie. This was a real light bulb moment that allowed us to stop looking at casting as a way to ensure the success of our film, and to refocus our attention on making the best film possible.
Susan suggested we reach out to local casting agents, so the next day we contacted Chicago based, Paskal Rudnicke Casting (Public Enemies, The Break-Up, etc.). We found that the staff there was not only happy to work with us but also happy to show us the wealth of talent that existed right under our noses. We saw 50 talented, passionate, hungry, actresses for the lead role. They each came in with a unique take on the character, showing us things we hadn’t thought of, challenging us to answer some tough questions, and bringing the character to life for us for the very first time!
From that session we cast an amazing local actress who was even willing to let us shoot a teaser trailer with her for our Kickstarter campaign. The video can be checked out here: The campaign has done really well so far, but we’ve still got a ways to go, and it ends at 7pm (CST) on July 18th! We’d be very grateful if you’d be willing to take a look and consider supporting our campaign.
  • Jennifer Lawrence Doesn’t Want to Be in Your Microbudget Movie: To be honest we never thought she did. But who was Jennifer Lawrence before Winter’s Bone? A super-talented actor hungry to find a great role. So although Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t want to be in your movie, the next Jennifer Lawrence just might.
  • The Importance of Casting Directors: These are people who have been doing this for years. They have connections to agents, to talent, and they know their way around all the rules and regulations that you might not. They’ll save you time and frustration.
  • Whenever Possible Call Managers, Not Agents: Within 30 seconds an agent will ask about money. This is not the direction you want the call to go. But managers often ask you what the project’s about. Who knows, you might be offering exactly the type of thing that actor is looking for.
  • You Don’t Have to be in New York or L.A. to Find Talented Actors: Most cities have a pool of talented actors, chomping at the bit to find a juicy role. Check with your local casting directors; they can help you connect.
  • Build Relationships: Everyone who agrees to read your script represents an opportunity to become part of a larger network of people who are actively making movies. As a young filmmaker, it’s incredibly important to foster these relationships. The best way to do that is by always being respectful and genuine and trying to give back in any way that you can. Remember these people gave you the time of day when very few people would.
Jessica Kickstarter:
Twitter @FoldedRose
Scott K. Foley and Josh Rosenberg have over a dozen years of experience in film and television production. They have completed projects with ABC, Discovery, TLC, Comedy Central, Oprah Winfrey Network and A&E, to name a few. Not only skilled filmmakers, Scott and Josh are also producers as well. In 2008 Scott line-produced a scripted television pilot for Spike TV, and Josh currently works in production management at Harpo Studios in Chicago.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Advice for film actors: How to either be despised or adored by your crew

You've been cast in a film! Congratulations! It's taken a lot to get this far... and yet, there's always more.

Film crews love actors. We look forward to working with them and are always quick to give them the benefit of the doubt. We are happy to give you space to prepare and to make sure that everything is just right, so you can focus on your job. After all, the reason we got into movies in the first place was to work with great actors, not so much just to move lights around. A cinematographer friend says, "Great cinematography is 80% about performance." In other words, even if it's a bit out of focus and bumpy, great acting can often make up for it.

That said, however, there are certain things that performers do that can really drive a film crew nuts. I tend to see these things enough that I figure maybe actors just don't realize the affect it has on crews. To all those actors I've worked with in the past who think this post is about them, don't worry about it. Everyone has bad days. Hopefully this post will make your up coming shoot an even better experience.

How to be despised by your crew

Team Player. First remember that you are part of the team. Everyone on that team is working toward the same goal, and that goal is to make a good movie, in the least amount of time as possible.

Ticking Clock. Every movie you watch is more exciting when a "ticking clock" is introduced (a time-bomb strapped to the bottom of the bus which will go off in ten minutes, or whatever). Well, film crews are always working against a ticking clock. The most critical thing for a film crew is speed and making their day (combined with quality and safety). This means that the worst things a crew member can do is hold up production (not have a prop ready when it's needed, show up late with key equipment, take too long building a rig, etc), AND the quickest way an actor can make her crew not like her is to slow down production.

Not Prepared. The biggest mistake an actor can make is to not come prepared. When an actor shows up on set and doesn't have her lines memorized, she will become an immediate antagonist to the crew. This doesn't mean someone can't slip up every now and then, or struggle over some sections, that's no big deal. But the crew will know immediately when an actor just flat out hasn't taken the time to prepare to learn their lines (they've seen it too many times before). You have to understand, in most cases the crew has already been working several weeks, twelve to sixteen hours a day, before you've arrived. They know their job, and it's physically demanding, and if they don't do it right, they're let go. Then imagine their feelings as an actor comes in and is cavalier and unprepared and slows down production as the script supervisor is constantly feeding her the lines. It's insulting. Come prepared. Know your lines.

Performing for Crew. Another thing that will make you unpopular is to continue performing after "Cut" is called. You may be a great improv artist and may have the crew in stitches during your take and when the director calls "Cut" the whole room bursts into a laugh that they have painfully been holding in. Great. Some actors, however, feel they now have a captive audience and keep their show going. Not great. Don't do it. In between "Action" and "Cut" you do your job, after "Cut" the crew does theirs. If you continue to perform, inevitably some grip, electrician or PA will stop what they're supposed to be doing and pay attention to you.  You're there to work, not to entertain. Instead, once "Cut" is called, be quiet and listen to what the director is saying, listen to what the DP is saying to her lighting team. You will need to know what adjustments the lights or camera are making. You may think that you're just talking among your fellow actors, but if you're talking, that means everyone working has to talk louder. (as an aside, worry about playing to the camera, not to the crew. My experience is that things that either make the crew laugh or make the crew cry seldom work in the final edit). Be a professional actor when the camera is rolling AND a professional actor when it stops.

Forget the Gag Reel. Don't try to make the blooper reel by laughing, swearing, or being silly during a take. I see this time and again. If you mess up, just start again, say, "Going again," and go for it. Hiroshi Watanabe, the lead actor in our film White on Rice, is a great example of the right way to do this. Though one of the funniest actors I ever worked with, I only saw him break character and laugh once during our entire 25 day shoot. That's because he wasn't performing to make people laugh, he was playing a character, and the humor came from the character. Hiroshi is a pro and was adored on set.

Hiroshi Watanabe and Justin Kwong in White on Rice: two pros.

Not there to hang out. You've come to work, be there to work. Being leisurely will not win you any friends. If you know you have a scene coming up, be on hand, ready to work. Don't be in the makeup trailer flirting with the makeup artist or hanging out at craft service. Generally your second AD will always have a place where they want you, make sure you're there. And if you need to slip away, be sure to ask permission. Remember you're part of the team, and the team has a goal. Don't feel like you're being bossed around by this and don't get freaked out when a PA follows you everywhere you go. That's their job. Help them do their job and don't wander off. The Marx Brothers were so notorious about wandering off (they'd wander all the way off the studio lot for a card game) that someone eventually made cages that they would lock them in.

• I won't even comment on actors who need to go into their trailer to pout and need to be ego stroked out. The resulting opinion of the crew should be obvious. Again, you're part of a team.

No one's complained so far? If you do any of the above things, you will probably never hear any complaints about it. That's because the crew is being careful to make you comfortable and happy, so that you can do your best when you're performing. You may never hear it, but it is being discussed.

When you're working do your best work. After I've said the above, don't be afraid to ask your director questions, or ask for another take, or ask to try it another way. Whatever your method of prep, don't worry about it... even if it requires some peculiarities. The crew will not be upset if you're passionate about your work and want the film to be as good as it can be, especially if you deliver the goods when it's time... however, there are limits. Don't be unreasonable. Also, if you need something, feel free to ask for it. Ask a PA to bring you water or coffee, so that you can stay where you're supposed to be, or stay focused on what you're supposed to do. It's what they're supposed to do and what they're there for.

Paid to wait. Also remember this: an actor friend, Jimmy Chunga, got to meet James Cameron and asked what advice he'd give an aspiring actor. Cameron said "You're not paid to act. You love acting, acting is fun, you'd do it for free. You're paid to wait." Good advice. Follow that and you will be on your way to being adored.

How to be adored by your crew

You are. First, know that you already are. The crew wants to adore you. The crew automatically hopes that all the actors are super cool. Very small gestures on your part, therefore, will guarantee your belovedness.

Equality. Treat the crew like equals. Many of them have been doing their jobs much longer than you.  Actress Amy Stewart surprised me by asking for a crew list as soon as she arrived on set. She kept it with her and would pull it out and ask people things like, "So you're Joe and you're the gaffer, right?" Within a few days she knew everyone's names. She'd arrive on set and say, "Hi Joe." Wow, what an impact that had. She was beloved.

Eat with the crew. Most of the time the cast bonds quickly and eats together, which is totally fine. If however, you sometimes sit and eat with the crew you'll be appreciated and admired... and obviously, the more successful you become, the truer this becomes.

Be generous. If you're heading over to the craft service table grab some things to bring around to the crew. Ask people if they want a water bottle, a soda, or a carrot stick. Actors do have to wait around on a film set a lot. Take a moment to help the crew out (just don't get in their way if they're moving stuff). It's easy and goes a long way. One of the best actors I have ever worked with was the incomparable Debra Jo Rupp. One day, on our very low budget shoot, she treated everyone to a Starbucks run. Took orders and sent a PA off with her credit card. Just did it to be nice. Just made herself beloved, is what she did. Notice how there are chairs for actors to sit in, but not for the crew, that you are always brought through the lunch line first, etc. Film crews do all we can to make sure you're comfortable... you have a hard job, and have to really mine your emotions and be very vulnerable, and we respect that. If you just show us a nod back, it goes a long way. (Note that while you might feel it's good to insist that crew people go through lunch lines before you, or that they sit down instead of you, remember that many people are simply not allowed to do it. If you coax a PA into a chair, it might be the last time you see that PA on set).

Debra Jo Rupp and Abby Miller in Congratulations, adored.
Know your trade. You're a professional film actor. No one expects someone in their first movie to be a total pro, but work at learning to hit your mark every time, knowing when you're in the light or have stepped out of it, knowing when someone is blocking you from camera, knowing about eye-lines, crossing lines, and stepping on lines. Know what you're not supposed to touch. Also, know about the tools your crew is working with. Get familiar with lenses, cameras, lights, etc. That way when your single is being shot on an 85 you naturally have a sense of your framing. You're working with a team of professionals, be one and be adored.

Be low maintenance. Understand the type of film you're working on. I've been on small shoots where actors showed up requesting specially made breakfasts each morning (when breakfast is bagels and fruit, don't ask for a tofu scramble and strawberry smoothie). On the other hand, on a recent shoot I was on, one actor showed up with his own chair. He didn't make a big deal about it, didn't care if others sat in it or anything, he just didn't want production to have to worry about him, so every day he pulled his chair out of his car and set it up and brought it home with him at night. Now that's low maintenance, folks.

Hang with the boys. Finally, every so often, if you hear the crew is doing something after wrap, show up. On Last Kind Words (shot in the backwoods of Kentucky) iconic actor Brad Dourif showed up one night for barbecue and moonshine (it was a dry county) at the crew motel. He hung out for a few hours regaling the crew with stories about working with Werner Herzog, David Lynch, John Huston and Peter Jackson. I'm sure it didn't hurt Brad's ego, and it certainly increased his legend status with our young crew. Normally it's just heading over to the local pub for a beer or something... go for it, you will be adored and coming to work with people who adore you is really more than anyone could hope for.

So, I suppose this whole post begs the question "Do you have to be adored by your crew?" I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe it's just as well to show up, work hard, do your job and leave. Certainly if you do this you will be respected. The other question would be, "Is it so wrong to be despised?" I would say yes, because by creating tension on set you're damaging the morale and working condition of those around you. So, you don't have to be adored, but it's best to not be despised.

Now go emote.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Insurance tips for ultra-low budget and micro budget independent films.

When I've shot micro/no-budget I have often flown without any insurance at all. I can't recommend this (I'm afraid I'd be sued). On these shoots our crew of five or six bring their own equipment, and all understand that we're all in it together. Fortunately I never had any serious issues on these small shoots. In fact, I had until recently gone twelve features without ever having to make an insurance claim. The streak is over, however, folks. Both of the last two features I've line produced have had to make insurance claims (one very large, and a smaller one). Based on these experiences here are some tips:

• Don't raise your deductible in order to keep your up-front costs low. If you don't have to file a claim you'll save money... but, if you do, you'll regret it. Maybe your budget is so low it's worth the gamble, but remember your coverage is per incident. So, if your deductible on rented equipment is $5,000, and you have a $4,000 repair on a camera, and a $4,000 repair on a mixer, then you've spent $8,000 and still haven't been able to use your insurance.

• Have any crew member who is bringing their own equipment fill out a rental agreement, where they list their equipment and its replacement cost (even if they're not charging you to use it). If that equipment is damaged, you could always go back and do it, but doing it up front saves time, and will give your crew a sense of being looked after.

• Budget for claims. Get an insurance package with a $1,500 deductible (which is standard) and include $3,000 in your budget for a couple of insurance claims. You'll be glad you did if you have to file a claim, AND you'll be glad you did if you don't, because it will give you that much more padding.

• Realize that certain elements will increase the cost of your insurance, such as stunts, fights, use of weapons, falls, scenes near water, scenes in water, shots that involve the camera to be on a boat, animals, talent on horses, etc etc. Don't cheat. Let your broker know exactly what you'll be doing. You don't want to explain why you dropped the Red camera in the lake, when you didn't point out you'd be working around a lake... that's a good way to get your claim refused.

Brad Dourif threatens Spencer Daniels with a knife, and threatens to send
Last Kind Words' insurance through the roof.
Man From Reno crew with camera on a dock needed special insurance for working near water.
DP extraordinaire, Rich Wong, works the EZ Rig.
Guns and blanks add to insurance costs. Air Soft guns and Sharpees don't.
Jarrod Phillips and Tom Post in Inspired Guns.
• Expect to pay around $4,000 for a feature film without stunts, just as a general starting place. It can be more, and can be less.

• Be sure to insure yourself long enough before production so your crew can pick up equipment, and long enough after for them to return. If you've set up your insurance so it starts on your first day of production, no one will let anything out of the rental house... AND if you have to add a day or two on after you've already set up the policy, you'll find it a big additional expense that wouldn't have been there if you had given the correct time period at the beginning.

• A great option for micro-budgets: If you know someone who owns a production company that is insured yearly, you can enter into an agreement with them to be carried on their policy. You will sign an agreement with them that they are an official "Producer" on the project (though they may not have to have any official credit, other than a special thanks), and they become the administrators of the project, and all insurance goes through them. Be careful, however, that their coverage is sufficient for your needs. Most production companies don't have to rent a lot of equipment very often, so it's possible that their rental coverage isn't high enough for your needs.

• My preferred insurance company is Supple-Merrill and Driscoll ( They have excellent customer service and a great online system that allows you to issue insurance certificates at any time of day on your own. Just fill out the form and email a cert to whomever needs it. This is a huge benefit over other companies who require you to call or email the information and wait a day (a business day) until you have a certificate. I've been able to knock on someone's door and ask if we could film on their property, and email them a cert while we stood there speaking.

However, I am currently working with them on a major claim (my first). Once that is over and we see how smoothly the process went, I'll update.

I would not want to tell this man that the ride he brought to set wasn't insured.
Nano "Doc" Gonzalez on the set of Inspired Guns.
Good luck, and may you never need to file a claim.